On July 7, 2015. Lowell Wood, inventor-in-residence at Intellectual Ventures (IV), received his 1,085th utility patent (a patent for inventions). This broke the record held by Thomas Edison since 1933.
In a profile for Bloomberg, Ashlee Vance wrote about how Wood helped bring about the end of the Soviet Union, through his work on the “Star Wars” system. Wood’s patents cover a wide range of products, from football helmets designed to prevent concussions to drug delivery systems.
Wood likes to work on solving the world’s problems.
“At least half of his activities—maybe more—are trying to help the least fortunate people on earth,” says Nathan Myhrvold, IV’s co-founder and CEO and former chief technology officer at Microsoft. “He’s really good at it. His ideas have already saved tons of lives and have the potential of saving enormously more.”
Myhrvold introduced Wood to Bill Gates, and the two now meet regularly. Wood has taken on the role of on-demand puzzle solver for many of Gates’s humanitarian projects. “Whenever there’s a scientific question I need to understand better, Lowell is one of the first people I turn to,” Gates says. “If he doesn’t know the answer, which rarely happens, I’m sure he can figure it out.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that lately he’s been focused on developing a one-time, universal vaccine. If successful, newborns would be given the vaccine minutes after being born, and that would take care of all of the childhood vaccines.
Wood states: “Bill Gates and I share the common viewpoint that vaccines are the closest thing to magic that human technology has come up with, because you do this terribly ritualistic little pricking of the skin or sometimes take a pill, and you’re immune to the disease forever after.”
Wood is an avid reader – he subscribes to three dozen academic journals. He credits his reading habit to Linus Pauling. After hearing Pauling give a lecture, Wood asked him afterwards, ‘How do you come up with these huge number of wonderful ideas?’ He said, ‘There’s really nothing to it all. You just read, and you remember what you read.’”
Wood sees the world as a never-ending puzzle. It’s an attitude that leaves others feeling optimistic after chatting with him. Famine? Evil? Impending environmental doom? They’re but problems waiting to be solved.
It’s humbling when you read about someone as smart as Wood, but it is also comforting to know that he is using his gifts to successfully work on some of the world’s most challenging problems.
By the way, Wood is 74 years old, and still going strong: he is named as inventor or co-inventor on about 2,500 U.S. patent applications that are currently pending, and he is still generating hundreds of new inventions each year…